A lot of people love claim that they love characters in their novels. Considering how many novels I’ve had to trudge through because I found the characters to be so unbearable, I’m firmly in that camp. In comparison, when there are stories with characters that I love and plots I can’t tolerate, I can get through them much easier. Thus the more that I think about it, the more vital character development is to a story. However, haven’t been able to figure out what really makes all characters tick. Some characters that I’ve written are loved, others not so much.
I’ve come to realize that there are two kinds of people when it comes to the characters they enjoy in a story. There are people who who need to like the characters they are following. There are people who need to find the characters they are following interesting. For me, I’m a bit of both. Take this scenario with the assumption that the plot is solid if not amazing. If a character is interesting and I don’t like them, I can probably get through the story, but won’t enjoy it. If the character is dull but I like them, I can probably get through the story and have a chance of liking it. If the character is not interesting and I don’t like them, the book will fall to the way side. Ultimately what I’m saying is that it is rare for me to enjoy a story if I can’t like the main character. For me this comes down to if I don’t like the character, I don’t become invested in their fate. If they die, cool. If they live, cool. If they grow a third head, awesome.
What has and hasn’t worked?
Don’t be afraid to give out character information
There are few things more frustrating than not knowing anything about a character. The less I know about them means there are fewer things I can latch on and connect with. Sometimes it feels like some stories are out to make you figure out every little thing about a character. Unless there is a valid reason for doing so in the plot, it’s generally better to give information about a character.
Don’t be afraid to hold back character information
On the flip side, some characters are so overly described and fleshed out they don’t feel real. When I meet someone knew, I learn new things about them, but it’s extremely rare that I learn their life story. I shouldn’t know every single thing about a character within the first pages of a book. I only need to know a character enough to understand them. Other than that it should be presented in a fun way. Don’t rail me with details for the sake of details.
The way something is described can be more important than an action
Have you ever talked to someone and they described something in a way you never would have thought of? Well, that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for with characters. One person may see a wooden bench outside as comfortable. Another may see it as moldy. Another person may not even notice it until someone else points it out. All those different reactions tell us something about the people involved. Those bits of information are invaluable and give us an idea of the kind of person they are and how they see the world.